Action, Romance, and a Sharp Right Hook

These are three things I feel any mainstream novel needs in order to be successful in today’s market.  Let’s face it, if my reader isn’t interested in my story within the first few pages they’re likely to put it down and move onto something that promises to be, if anything, a bit more interesting.  It’s depressing to think that people won’t give your book a chance based solely on the first couple pages, but it’s a truth I’ve learned the hard way.  Experience has taught me what my readers want out of a book and I’m going to try my best to share with you my personal ingredients for creating a page-turning success.

On a side note, Chapter Two of The School of Arts is uploaded and I plan to reference it in this post, so read at your leisure. :]

Too Mainstream?

A perfect scene in every sense of the word.

First off, there has to be some sort of action.  Let me be clear, though.  In no way am I suggesting that throwing in senseless violence or needless explosions to suit your latest whim resembles anything remarkably close to a good idea.  I’m referring strictly to the action that drives a plot forward—a struggle arises as a result of the story’s main conflict.  Sure, things can blow up, and sure there can be violence, but it has to be for a reason.

As we can all probably attest, most of the mainstream blockbusters that grace today’s sticky-floored movie theaters use action as their main plot device.  There is, however, a limit to the amount of grisly red corn syrup and obviously fake explosions a person can take before the thought of death amuses them.  So, how can we incorporate action into our stories without making it seemed forced?  Here are some of my suggestions:

1)       It needs to make sense, both physically and logically.  If your plot never suggested that those two characters would be arch nemeses, then why are they suddenly so apt on violently murdering each other?  In the beginning of The School of Arts, I use action as a way to get my reader’s attention and hold it (more on that later), but I also use it to raise questions and make it perfectly clear that the world the story takes place in is very different than our own.

2)      Employ all the senses.  The best action scenes I’ve ever read, written by the likes of Terry Goodkind and JK Rowling, made ample use of sensory details.  By doing this, the reader will more easily lose themselves in the story and visualize the events as they transpire.  Whether it be an epic battle in a snow  covered mountain pass or the final confrontation at Hogwarts, I can still see them perfectly, as if I witnessed them myself.

Romance Isn’t Dead, At Least Not Yet

Overly prissy vampires and angst riddled teenage girls aside, there is still a place for romance in novels.  Actually, it has a BIG place, and when used properly it can add a depth to a story that would be unattainable otherwise.  Love is something everyone can relate to and when a beloved character falls for the girl of his dreams, people are going to be able to connect to the situation and find similarities within their own life.  (If someone claims otherwise, they’re either lying or have lived as a hermit for the entirety of their lives.)

Katniss and Gale. Their relationship kept me intrigued until I reached the last page.

As I said, the main goal of incorporating romance into a story is to give our readers something to connect with while they read.  They need to feel invested in the characters and their plights in order to find the inspiration they need to stick with them until the end.  There’s one mistake I’ve noticed quite a bit in my own reading and it’s making romance central to the plot.  Sure, this is an acceptable practice for those ten cent romance novels you might find in a used book store, but if you actually want your writing to significantly impact someone, there is nothing worse you could do.  I understand my fellow writers might disagree with some of the things I’ve said about this, but this is all my opinion.  So take it with a pinch (or tablespoon, depending on your taste) of salt.

If you don’t want a part in Chapter Two spoiled for you, I suggest you don’t read this next part until you’ve finished, but I wanted to talk about how I approach romance in my own writing.  Quite randomly, it might seem, Silvia kisses Lucas.  I haven’t explained her intentions or the motivation behind the impulsive act, but I made her do it for a reason.  There’s always an unavoidable tension between the two main protagonists, especially in Lucas and Silvia’s case, so I wanted to do away with it.

By removing that awkward buildup to the so called “first kiss,” I believe I’ve opened their complex friendship up to many interesting possibilities.  Now their relationship is even more uncertain, which I hope will keep my readers engaged.  I look forward to playing with their dynamic and adding new characters to the mix.  (I already have one more character planned to round out the main cast of three, since, you know, it’s the magic number and all.)

Go for the K.O.

I believe this one is pretty self-explanatory.  Don’t be afraid to pull out all the stops.  It’s a harsh reality, but in a market full of books, if your reader isn’t interested in the first few pages, heck, the first few SENTENCES, they’re going to move on to something else.  Make the first thing they read as exciting as possible and build your way up from there.  Every story has a series of ups and downs—intense, dramatic scenes interspersed between the longer, storytelling lulls—so who’s to say we can’t have one of the more exciting parts begin our story?   Here are a few of my own tips for creating a hook that will catch even the most timid readers:

1)      Start with action or dialogue.  I don’t mean action in the sense I discussed earlier.  This simply implies that something is happening.  By beginning this way, a reader will be inclined to see how the events transpire.  The same goes for dialogue.  It is naturally engaging and is an immediate insight into the characters and the situation.

2)      On the contrary, don’t begin with exposition.  Trust me, I’ve done it.  There is nothing worse than beginning a story with a long winded description of a rolling yellow wheat field or a darkly sinister forest.  Sure, it might be important to the story itself, but begin with the action and insert the descriptions as you go.

3)      Make it fun.  If someone enjoys what they are reading, they’re more likely to stick with it for the long run.  Whether you add humor or describe an epic escape scene (wink, wink), there has to be something the average person would find interesting.  I believe I did a decent job with this is Chapter One.  Does anyone agree/disagree?  I’d love your opinions!

Bring it All Together

Feel free to utilize these strategies in your own unique way, or come up with new and exhilarating methods for drawing your readers into your story.  No matter what you do, just make sure it all fits.  In the end, my best advice would be to never write without a purpose.  Sure, we can’t all be JK Rowlings, but if we aim that high chances are we’ll come pretty darn close.

Perpetually Inspired,

A fellow writer.

Blue Hair and a Personality to Match

If you’ve read the first chapter of the project I’m writing for this blog, The School of Arts, you’ll know two things.  One, I’ve only introduced two characters, but they both have their fair share of eccentricities.  And two, one of them might actually be a tad bit unbelievable in the beginning.  I mean, blue hair, a leather jump suit and deadly chic bow; in what reality would that be classified as realistic?  Nevertheless, it was all done for a purpose.

Lucas

Let me start by discussing, or rather, dissecting, my main character.  Whenever I start a story, I open a separate document and call it something along the lines of “Ideas.”  I use this to jot down all the random thoughts pertaining to the story that pop into my head.  Whether they are plot twists, future scenes, or character sketches, I know that if I don’t write them down they could disappear forever.  I’m not being dramatic here, either; I have a knack for forgetting important things.  Even if you have a photographic memory, though, it’s honestly a good habit to get into.  It keeps me on top of things and gets me in the mood to write the actual story.

This is part of what I wrote about Lucas before I even started writing the first chapter:

Lucas is what I’d call average, in every sense of the word.  He’s never done anything remarkable with his life, but he’s perfectly content with letting the days pass him by in a muddled blur of mediocrity.  He’s not really a loner, but the friends he does have aren’t that close to him.  As far as his personality is concerned, he’s not particularly introverted and can be quite charismatic if the need arises.

I wanted to get a feel for Lucas before I started writing about him, so his actions and dialogue would portray his character.  The last thing I want is for my characters’ actions to appear forced or unrealistic.  Everything they do has to reflect who they are, otherwise my readers will start to feel detached.    Here are some examples straight out of chapter one that either hint at or explicitly characterize Lucas:

“…and it certainly isn’t the first time he’s taken advantage of her nearsightedness and snuck in a quick power nap during her class…” -> This suggests he’s dozed off during class more than once before.  Any reader will draw the same conclusions upon reading this and I’m almost positive it’s what I want them to think about him.

“This time he listens.  Although, it’s not because of the terrible danger he can sense he’s in or the threatening tone the girl has taken on.  The one thing Lucas hates, even more so than his prude of a stepfather, is when someone suggests he’s anything less than a man.  He gets plenty of that at home without having to deal with prissy know-it-alls like her.” -> In this short paragraph, I not only try to explicitly portray his personality through the explanation, my intention is to make it apparent in the wording as well.  This is essentially a thought that races through his head, so the word choice of “prude” and “prissy” show that he is indeed a slightly defensive and stereotypically overconfident teen boy.

 Silvia

Or blue haired wonder girl, as I like to call her.  As you can probably tell, this story is fantasy and I have no qualms in making that perfectly clear.  If the shadow men I’ve deemed “Apparates” weren’t enough of a giveaway, I hope the fact that Silvia can shoot blue fire out of her hands was enough to tip the scale.  The world I’m creating is different than the one we live in, so my characters will reflect that as well.  While it might not be the norm for a girl to dress or act the way she does, people are less apt to question it, especially in the place she calls home.  (You’ll discover this in later chapters.)

My plan is to make Silvia as prominent in the story as Lucas and even though the plot won’t be centered on her, I want her to shine in her own unique way.  Her blue hair and choice of attire reflect the fire (both literally and figuratively) burning deep within her soul.  I won’t post Silvia’s character sketch because it reveals too much story wise, but just know that she acts the way she does for a reason.

So what?

As I’ve said before (and I really can’t say it enough), characters are what drive a story.  They make the decisions that change the plot (for better or worse) and they’re what keep readers coming back for more.  They have to be compelling enough to remain interesting, but realistic enough not to raise any eyebrows.  Readers have to feel invested in the characters, so they’ll be affected by their actions and want to know what happens next.

Until next time,

A fellow writer.

First Project Update!

Well, it's posted!  The first chapter of the story I'm writing for this blog.  The title is tentative, but "The School of Arts" fits it perfectly.  You see, the novel is about a teenager named Lucas who has an ability called an "Art."  The idea seriously popped into my head at the most random moment and I decided to run with it.  I mean, an "art" is an ability that someone has that makes them unique, so it makes sense.  Doesn't it?  The main character is Lucas, a name I really like but have yet to use in a story of mine.  His sidekick, if you will, is Silvia, who's about as eccentric as they come.  I'm trying to write it in such a way that makes it read like teen fic, but since it's my first attempt I'm not sure how that's going.  There are a number of techniques I used in writing this first chapter and you can look forward to in depth discussions of them in my next posts.  Some of these include:

1) Hooking the reader and making them look at more than just the first page.

2) Coming up with and developing my characters.

3) Constructing the plot and sub plots and making sure everything makes sense and works together.  (No contradictions.)

4) Making the exposition as interesting as the action.

5) Creating realistic dialogue and using it to characterize.

6)Keeping myself on track.

Feel free to leave comments on the first chapter!

~A Fellow Writer

Connecting with Our Characters

They Can't All Be John Smiths

There's only one character I know of that can pull off the name "John Smith," and 1) he’s an alien, 2) he travels through space and time in big blue police box,  3) he uses the name a pseudonym, and 4) I don't believe a more compelling character has ever been created.  If you don't know who I'm talking about, you better find out.  Until then, just know that your life is incomplete.

The point is, every character I create needs to be different.  They all must have characteristics that set them apart and make them memorable.  They need flaws that others can connect and relate to, but not so much so that they're unbelievable.  I can't think of a single book I haven't loved that didn't leave me feeling invested in its characters.  One perfect example is Harry Potter.  Some of my favorite characters in that series weren't even central to the overall story.

Professor McGonagal, confident and proud, always knew the right thing to say.  She never let anyone push her around, but after everything that happened to her, we realize that she's just like us.  She mourns the death of her friends and she protects the people that she cares about most, putting their lives before her own.  The following scene for the most recent and last Harry Potter film, shows the climax of her passion and devotion.  In this moment, we knows where her heart lies and we know why we've grown to love her the way we do.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-i72kSxUAc[/youtube]
I don't think I've ever felt as many goosebumps creep up my spine as I did in seeing this.  J.K. Rowling paid all her characters the same attention and made sure each and every one of them was as developed as the rest.  This is something I aspire to do.

A Fellow Writer's Thoughts

While browsing for inspiration, I stumbled upon a writing blog similar to mine.  Writer Unboxed is a blog devoted to all things writing and a recent post addresses this idea of character development.  I think the author of the blog, Ann, said it best in her post "What Makes a Book Magical?"

"When I read, I will overlook flaws in worldbuilding and plot, if the characters are compelling. But conversely, if the characters are cardboard or I can’t relate to them, it doesn’t matter how strong the world or how meticulously the book is plotted. Every single time, I will put the book down, wander away, and not return."

Characters are what drives a book's plot.  They are the decision makers, the risk takers, the lovers, the fighters, the explorers, the heroes, and the villains that make us come back for more.

To Wrap Up

Crafting characters is a crucial step in writing a novel.  My next "official" post will focus on my own process and tricks for coming up with characters, their personalities and flaws.  My main focus will be on the characters in the project I'm working on for this blog, but I might delve into what went into crafting Evelynn, the heroine in my novel, Chasing Evelynn.  She's the character I am, by far, most proud of, and I hope you'll get to understand why.

Expect the first chapter of this blog's project soon.  I'm almost done.

Until next time,

An Aspiring Companion.

The Subtle Art of Brainstorming

I can’t count the number of times I’ve found myself sitting in front of my computer, staring at the black cursor as it blinks upon a completely blank page, willing something worth writing about to pop into my head.  But the truth is, it won’t.  Through experience, I’ve discovered that I write best when I go into a session with a clear idea of what I plan to write.  (A session is what I call the periods of time I set aside to focus on just writing.)  Whether it’s a single scene or an entire chapter, I need to know what’s going to happen before I plop myself down at the computer with the intention of writing.  Otherwise, that blinking cursor won’t move an inch.

It would make sense then, that the first step in writing a novel is coming up with an idea.  This is the first of many choices I make when I write.  I need to choose something that my readers will connect with—something that will grab their attention and hold it until the last page.  I need to make my characters not only relatable, but flawed and unique.  I need to create a setting that is both remarkable and believable, so it paints a vivid picture in my reader’s head.  I need to develop a conflict that will make whoever reads about it feel connected to the story I’m trying to tell.  And finally, I need to choose something that I will enjoy writing, otherwise I know I won’t have any hope of finishing it.

As teenagers, my friend, Will, and I created our own world.  To this day, we continue to develop and expand upon its lands, its people, its magic, and most of all, its stories, but there was a time when none of it existed.  At least, in our minds.  We both loved to read and from this passion stemmed another: an unquenchable thirst for adventure.  We enjoyed exploring new places deep within the woods and losing ourselves in whatever stories we felt like telling.  Whether we were two hunters lost in a dangerous forest, or two knights sent to retrieve a princess from an evil sorcerer, our childhood was never devoid of fantastic quests and adventures.  There came a time, however, when we decided we were “too old” for such games and refocused our creativity into something more productive.  To this day, we still help each other in any way that we can.  Whether it’s running ideas by each other, or asking for an opinion on something we’ve written, we’re always eager to help the other along.  What I’m trying to say is that brainstorming isn’t something I can do while sitting in front of computer, or even by myself, for that matter.  Inspiration comes from experience, which is honestly true of anything.

Because I’ve been on a teen fic(tion) kick as of late, I’ve decided to take a stab at the genre and see where it takes me.  I’ve had the rough outline of an idea bouncing around inside of my head for a while, but it wasn’t until this opportunity presented itself that I decided to give it a whirl.  I suppose I’m cheating if I use a concept I’ve been toying with for a while since it means I’m not necessarily starting from “scratch,” but most of my stories begin this way.  I start with half an idea and let inspiration fill in the rest.  I plan to construct a city and create characters based off of places and people from my real life, then tie them into the story I’m writing.

So, what’s the idea I’ve come up with?  Well, books with teenage protagonists, such as Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and the Olympians, are some of my favorite to read.  This makes me certain I’d have fun writing a similar story.  Then I got to thinking, what if I built a story around a teenage male protagonist with a unique ability, just like these.  It will have to be unique, because this type of story has been written many times over, but I believe I can do it.  That’s all I’m working with now, but I have the first scene already envisioned in my head and I’m eager to begin writing it.

Expect to read the beginning of this project soon, which should be sometime within the week.  I’m really excited to start, so I’ll leave you here.  Just remember what I said.  Inspiration comes from experience, so get out there and explore everything that your world has to offer.

Until next time,

A fellow writer.

Another Beginning's End

For the purpose of this blog, which is going to be completely about writing and more specifically, me writing, I'm going to begin a novel completely from scratch.  As I write it, I will keep a journal of sorts, which will detail the process I go through to come up with ideas and how I develop them to fit into the plot of a coherent and (hopefully) engaging story.  I will also be sure to address difficulties I face while writing (troubles that inevitably plague us all) and propose my own methods for overcoming them.  By doing this, I hope to discover things about myself I didn't know before and uncover new (and perhaps, useful) ways to combat the struggles a writer faces on a daily basis.

You might, however, be wondering what possessed me to begin a blog about writing in the first place.  You see, I've been writing for as long as I can remember.  Seriously, my memory goes about as far back as sixth grade, when my English teacher, Mrs. Anderson, unknowingly changed my life.  It had been as simple as handing me "The Bad Beginning" and suggesting I read it in my free time.  Yes, the title is ironic, but I'm not joking.  This book, the first in The Series of Unfortunate Events, written by one of my all time favorite authors under the pen name of Lemony Snicket, utterly and irrevocably changed my life.  Had it not been for the story of the Baudelaire siblings, their tribulations and triumphs and unconditional love, I would have never been inspired to create stories of my own.  I'd like to think my journey didn't have a bad beginning, but I suppose I won't be able to decide that until I've reached it's end.  And by end I mean the completion of something substantial.  Something that, one day, everyone will recognize as a tale that changed their lives.

Before I begin this new project, I thought it might be worth mentioning that I'm currently at work on a different novel, as well.  I've given it the title, "Chasing Evelynn," and it's a story about love and diversity, set in a future I've constructed from my own views on the world.  Of course, the ideas I present in it are fictional and exaggerated, but I feel they're realistic enough to convey my intended message.  The story itself is currently sitting at roughly 50,000 words, which as most know is "novel length" by many standards, but it's no where near completion.  There is still so much story left to for me tell and a lot that I've yet to decide.  That's another thing that I'll get into as I continue writing this blog, the decisions we, as writers, face in crafting our tales and in our everyday lives.

You will find a link to my story, Chasing Evelynn, in the side bar, in case you're interested in seeing what it's all about, but it will not be the focus of this blog.  I want to be able to start fresh and experience the thrills of coming up with new ideas again and share my experiences with you.  I hope you find inspiration somewhere within these words, because we all have a story to tell.  It's just a matter of deciding where you want to begin.

That's all for now,

A fellow writer.